In a ceremony held at Stanford University last Friday evening, November 15, 2013, global philanthropist and humanitarian Bita Daryabari awarded the 6th Annual Bita Prize in Persian Letters to acclaimed writer, essayist, and translator Mahshid Amirshahy.
Each November, the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies at Stanford University awards the Bita Prize to an esteemed Iranian scholar, writer or artist. The award is intended to celebrate a lifetime of singular accomplishments. Luminaries who have won the award, from Simin Behbahani and Mohammad Reza Shajarian to Bahram Beyzaie and Houshang Seyhoon, are a testimony to the richness of these accomplishments.
Upon personally presenting the distinguished award to its recipient, Daryabari stated, “Mahshid Amirshahy has long been a tireless, fearless, creative, and cosmopolitan voice of Iranian women and men, at once preserving and transcending tradition and aspiring to create a community and a literature that is unmistakably Iranian but also global in their learning and aspirations.”
The Iranian Studies Program states, “It is in recognition of a life dedicated to fiction, to speaking truth to power, and to defending the rights of men and women to live in liberty that [Mahshid Amirshahy] is this year’s winner of the Bita Prize [in Persian Letters].”
Created by Daryabari in 2008, the $6.5M Bita Daryabari Endowment in Persian Letters at Stanford has not only allowed the university to hire three full-time professors of Persian literature, but the annual Bita Prize has become the most coveted prize in the realm of Persian letters.
During the ceremony, Daryabari pledged her support to help launch the Stanford Festival of Persian Arts and also announced her funding of the Program’s newest award: The Bita Award for Young Artists. Beginning in 2014, this award will identify the most promising young Iranian artists and recognize their talents and achievements. It will be presented annually in mid-March as a reminder of Nowruz (the Persian New Year) and the season of new beginnings.
About Mahshid Amirshahy
Mahshid Amirshahy was a prodigy when she published her first short stories as a teenager—stories at once defiant, deliberate and disciplined. Over an illustrious career that has lasted almost half a century and while the arenas of her contributions to Persian letters have changed (from short fiction to long novels, from journalism to satire, from translations to literary criticism), what has remained constant is her dedication to formal excellence and innovation, artistic freedom and dignity, and the rights of women to live lives free from fetters emanating from tradition, misogyny, dogma or received opinions. In all she wrote and did, she was a feminist long before feminism had become a permanent part of intellectual discourse in Iran. She continues to have an enduring influence on the increasingly rich legacy of women’s fiction and women’s rights in Iran and around the world.
About Bita Daryabari
In less than a decade, arts advocate and global philanthropist Bita Daryabari has emerged as one of the most beloved and cherished leaders of the Iranian-American community. From the beginning of her professional life, her work has been accompanied by her avid interest in Arts & Humanities. She created the Bita Daryabari Endowment in Persian Letters at Stanford University, where the Annual Bita Prize in Persian Letters has become a coveted prize. In 2010, she founded Pars Equality Center—the only non-profit of its kind providing social and legal services to Iranian emigrants, refugees and asylum seekers—where she is also the executive director (http://www.parsequalitycenter.org.) Her charitable Unique Zan Foundation is dedicated to supporting the education of women and children all over Western Asia—from building orphanages for Afghan children to schools in the Middle East (http://www.uniquezanfoundation.org/). She was recently a co-sponsor of the 2013 Cyrus Cylinder Exhibition at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. One of the most iconic objects of religious tolerance and multiculturalism in the world, this was the first time in history that the Cylinder came to the United States. In October 2013, she announced a $2M endowment of the Shahnama Project and Centre at Cambridge University, which will help fund the continued research and study of the Persian epic poem the Shahnama, also known as The Book of Kings. Her Honors include the Ellis Island Medal of Honor (2012), the United Nations Appreciation Award for Outstanding Leadership, Commitment and Support of the UN and Achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (2011), PAAIA Philanthropist of the Year Award (2010) and Golden Gate University’s Alumni of the Year Award (2008).